How to set boundaries and why it is healthy
Reading time: approx. 3 minutes
After a hectic week, Elena can’t wait to get home finally. She is tired and edgy and is already daydreaming about going to the lake tomorrow. All alone, just her and the calming nature. Then her phone rings, waking her from dreaming. It’s her best friend asking for help with his move tomorrow. She’s feeling numb and has this nasty feeling inside her stomach as she hears herself saying: “Yes, of course, I’ll help you.” Realizing that her lake dream won’t come true, she asks herself: “Why is everybody always asking me for help? It seems as if I’m living only to serve others. At the same time, nobody seems to care about me and my feelings?”.
What happened here? Elena was already feeling drained when her best friend called her. Not taking the chance to tell him that she needs the day tomorrow for herself, she agrees to help. Her body is already showing boundaries in letting her experience typical stress reactions. Her inner beliefs drag down her mood even more, and now she’s not only feeling tired but also angry and sad. Like so many of us, Elena doesn’t succeed in setting herself a healthy boundary even though she would have loved to say that she can’t help. She thought about saying “No”, but her worries about being selfish and impolite let her experience the awkward feeling of guilt. In the end, she saw no other option than to say “Yes”, postponing her well-being for the well-being of others.
Why setting healthy boundaries is doing more good than harm
Nobody knows our own needs and energy level as well as we do. That’s why we have to take responsibility for our well-being. It’s unfair to expect others to manage our well-being.
We cannot expect others to know where we must set our boundaries to begin or maintain feeling good. To understand what boundaries could help you maintain and increase your well-being, it’s important that you are in contact with your personal needs. We all have four essential psychological needs for attachment, orientation and control, protecting and expanding our self-esteem, and for gaining pleasure and avoiding displeasure. Fulfilling them is essential for your psychological well-being (1). If you want to learn more about your basic psychological needs, take a closer look at this article (https://www.soulchat.co/resources/psychological-well-being-through-the-fulfillment-of-your-basic-psychological-need).
If you worry about being egoistic and destroying your relationships by setting boundaries, that is a worry many people share with you.
But often, setting healthy boundaries is even helping you in having good relationships with others. When you feel centered and balanced, you can relate in a warmer and more empathetic way with your loved ones. Remember a situation in which you didn’t feel good at all, emotionally, mentally, and physically drained. Now try to imagine somebody calling you and telling you about his own sorrows and asking for your help. This puts even more strain on you, right? Now, remember a phase in your life where you felt happy, sorrowless, and energized. Out of this state, try to imagine that somebody is pouring out their heart on you and asking you for help. How does it affect you now? Probably you feel that you can relate to the other person openly and warmly, be present, and listen to them.
How to set healthy boundaries
The first step is that you need to explore where you want to set your boundaries. Observe and check in with yourself a few times a day:
What thoughts are running through your mind?
How do you feel?
Is your body tense or relaxed?
Do you want to do what you’re doing right now? Does it give or cost you energy?
When you realize things that cost you energy, ask yourself what you need to do after or before it to balance yourself. Be very critical with yourself when it comes to the question, “Do I have to do this or are my inner beliefs telling me that I can’t say no?”. Often our beliefs like “I have to be perfect”, “I need to adjust”, or “I have to take care of others to have value in life” lead to our decision that we can’t deny a request.
That’s why it is so important to look with open eyes at your own beliefs and ask yourself if it is, e.g., really important to be perfect and if it would do that much harm when we admit that we need to pause sometimes and take care of ourselves.
Start setting boundaries
Choose what you feel most comfortable saying “no” and do it. To give others the chance to understand your decision, you can explain how you feel and that you need this time to take care of your well-being. It is often helpful for our relationships to open up about our feelings. But be careful. Don’t step into the “I have to justify myself trap”. Don’t turn yourself into a justification cycle or even start telling lies. You are always allowed first to take care of your well-being. After you begin setting boundaries, you’ll probably experience a feeling of relief. We often have these worst-case scenarios in our heads where we imagine how bad it will end when we say “no”. Let me calm you down here. Most of the time, we assess ourselves as way too substantial, like we would be the center of the world, and in the end, when we say “no” it is no problem at all to the other person.
Allow yourself to regularly pause and reflect on how you feel about the boundaries you just set. From there, decide which boundaries you want to set next.
We kindly invite you to chat with one of our counselors about your need for healthy boundaries. We can support you in gaining new perspectives and taking a closer look at your beliefs and barriers that keep you from setting healthy boundaries. Most of the time, in theory, we already know when we want to say “no”. It’s worth taking a closer look at why we do not always succeed in turning theory into practice.
Author: Anna Seger
(1) Grawe, K. (2014). Neuropsychotherapie. Hogrefe. http://elibrary.hogrefe.de/9783840918049/1